We've arrived at a special time of year. It's a time when people traditionally hide their identities behind masks, offer tantalizing goodies to strangers and find ways to scare the unsuspecting.
That's right, it's the political campaign season.
But that's not why we're here today. We're here to discuss Halloween, an occasion that's been celebrated for so long most of us have forgotten why we started doing it in the first place.
"The biggest misconception is that it has anything to do with blood and gore," Pamela Apkarian-Russell said. "It has nothing to do with hurting or scaring people. Halloween was the celebration of the harvest. When people lived in an agrarian society, the harvest was the difference in whether you made it through the winter."
Apkarian-Russell prefers the name Halloween Queen, a title she legally trademarked even before she opened the Castle Halloween museum in Wheeling, W. Va. She was referred to me by UC Davis Professor of Design Dolph Gotelli, a dedicated student of holidays, as the foremost authority on the calendar's spookiest day.
Her fascination with the netherworld traces to a New England upbringing and grade-school study of the Salem witch trials. That spawned an obsession with Oct. 31 that led to a collection of more than 35,000 pieces of Halloween memorabilia, including an Andy Warhol portrait of Dracula.
She came to learn that Halloween in colonial America was the time of harvest parties, when hosts shared gifts of food with guests. This sounds a lot like trick-or-treating. Pumpkins were carved as candleholders, decorated with faces to scare off evil spirits and welcome good ones. So arrived the first jack-o'-lanterns.
If you want to drop a deeper anchor, Halloween can be traced to Scotland Just after the Revolutionary War. Famed poet Robert Burns, who clearly had time on his hands, wrote a 28-stanza tribute to the ritual practices of the day.
One such story tells of a young girl eating an apple before a looking glass on Halloween so she can see the face of the man she will some day wed. It's not as chilling as "A Nightmare on Elm Street," but minds were less twisted then.
The Halloween Queen blames Hollywood for infusing the occasion with vampires, mummies and other haunting creatures. She said they are out of place in a celebration that was marked by grateful farmers sharing their bounty with the less fortunate.
Of all the characters now associated with Halloween, none has less reason to be included than zombies. For that explanation, we turn to UC Davis Postdoctoral Lecturer in English Sarah Juliet Lauro, an unabashed expert on stories of the undead.
"If you haven't looked into the zombie, you might think it's a living corpse that thirsts for peoples' brains or blood," she said, "but the original zombie was harmless.
"Few people know that the history of zombie is about slavery. We can trace it back to Africa. It was this monster who labored for free in the fields for whoever raised it from the dead."
Moviemakers were responsible for turning reality inside out, most notably in Director George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," which Lauro rates as her favorite nonfactual zombie flick.
"I'm a real scaredy-cat," she said. "I usually hate horror films. But the zombie is one thing that never really scared me."
I wish I could say the same about politicians.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org